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#CCK11 Moving beyond Connectivism

March 2, 2011

Is it time to move beyond connectivism?  Has this term outlived its usefulness? 

Connectivism seems to incite strong feeling, and it seems to create misunderstandings as to what it represents.  And represent it does – much to the chagrin I suppose of its ‘founders’, connectivism is a concept that represents a picture or perspective of a reality, in this case, the reality seen and desired by those very founders.

So what reality is it that they desire?  I think it is best expressed in this post:

This post summarizes the position of Stephen Downes in regards to network distribution. His position is that this phenomenon is of low value: 

cascade phenomena are generally better represented as the likelihood of the majority of entities in a network entering into a certain state

This ‘certain state’ is likened to an epidemic, an apparent appeal to the emotions to consider cascading as having only a negative effect. In order to reduce this effect, and circumvent the ‘power law’, the suggested remedy is to ‘drown out’ influential voices by increasing the connections in the network, as expressed in this statement:

Cascade phenomena occur, if you will, in a “sweet spot” where there is enough connectivity to permit influence and the propagation of an idea, but not enough connectivity to provide the stabilizing influence of dissenting opinions.

The result of increased connections is:

Communication from other people in the network overwhelms the information that a person might rely upon on his or her own, and that information therefore never informs the group as a whole.

By overwhelming the influential information that a person might rely on, and prohibiting it from reaching a group, we are left with the potential that not all the information reaches the group, due to the ‘drowning out’ of influential voices.  The internet needs drowning too:

Thus, while the connected nature of the web demonstrates a lesser tendency to cascade phenomena than the centralized model of mass media, the power law ultimately prevails even in this environment.

The cause of cascade phenomena:

Cascade phenomena, therefore, are caused not simply because a network of connections exists, but because the network that exists is not connected enough.

The goal then, is to create a network that is connected enough so that it ‘drowns out’ influential voices. Maybe this is achievable, but is it desirable?  Do the influential voices, that Stephen Downes wants to ‘drown out’, have something of value to convey?  One might want to entertain what they have to say, I would think.

Moving beyond connectivism might free up our thinking to find values in the very areas that connectivism would have us discount as influential and therefore undesirable. The connection of influential = undesirable, a connection that is at the root of connectivist ideology, is blinding the work on understanding distributed/distributive networks, and I maintain that we need to remove and move past these blinders.  As is well known, most ‘isms are prone to causing schisms, and is it the latter that we desire more of?


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  1. I don’t think connectivism (small ‘c’) has outlived its usefulness as a term – its continued use might be simply as a loose description of education’s move from the confines of the classroom to the connected world at large. I’m also dubious whether perceived ideological aspects of Connectivism (large ‘C’) is blinding many people – too much dust around to settle!

    Gordon Lockhart

  2. deadvocate permalink

    Hi Gordon, thanks for your comment. I like how you have distinguished between small ‘c’ and large ‘C’ connectivism. And you are right, people won’t be blinded so easily.

  3. Ken,
    Maybe connectivism needs a time out and a new manager? Approaching it has become almost impossible without setting off a reaction that seems left over from a previous argument / discussion. The theory can’t grow or adapt and have new things to say or new contributors when it becomes imprisoned in reputation.

    For a change how about “The Theory Formerly Known as Connectivism”? Too close to the original?

  4. deadvocate permalink

    Hi Scott. Yes, its reputation will harm Connectivism, I think. Too bad, as there are many good ideas coming from the discussions and the materials presented, but better steerage (new management) might be needed as you have suggested.

    A couple of the readings for this upcoming week concern Paolo Friere (I posted a resource on the FB group). I understand Freire (in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed) to suggest that the revolution in learning must come from the students, who are considered oppressed in what he calls the ‘banking education’ model. A leader (eg. a teacher) should not impose their perspective on the students during this revolution, rather, the leader should work alongside them to enable their freedom from educational oppression.

    So maybe what Connectivism (or the theory that follows it) needs is a revolution, a seizing of the ‘means of production’ by the students, a marginalizing of the teachers’ voice of authority. I think this is what has occurred in the last 3-4 weeks in CCK11 – the voice of the authority has weakened and emergent voices have strengthened. I like that, and encourage everyone who cares about learning to raise their voices, choose their leaders from amongst themselves, and name and create a new learning environment.

    Unfortunately, some students have left already, bruised by the (lack of) bedside manners of the authority. Students, and teachers, must never forget the power and authority a teacher wields in any learning environment. This power and authority should be wielded with great care and empathy, at all times. Otherwise the teacher becomes a dictator, merely replacing one bad system with another.

  5. Hello there Ken,
    I’ve been lurking around the current course, and can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s something missing. Scott’s frustration should raise alarm bells. You may be interested in this post suggesting an Aspergers approach may be beneficial for learning.

    I don’t subscribe to any specific educational theory. I simply consider them. What we need are fewer people on any bandwagon and a proliferation of alternatives to prevent the ‘staling’ of collective intelligence. When does collective become common ? Therein lies the value of the provocateur.

    And because I’m a lover of words ( generally other people’s) ………………………..Ten geographers who think the world is flat will tend to reinforce each others errors. Only a sailor can set them straight’…….. Ralston

  6. deadvocate permalink

    Hi Susan, thanks for making me think! What`s missing from CCK11 is you, and other rollicking rebels with a sailors sensibilities!

    You know that I value the provocateur. I think that collective intelligence becomes stale when the king throws the jester from the court. Athens was lost when the hemlock was taken. It is the stupidity of crowds to seek control. It seems like Ralston has that figured out.

    So, Aspergers. I think you are suggesting that stepping outside the crowd and invoking the power of this syndrome might help learning. Who would be so brave as to not go with the flow…

  7. Hah! can’t think straight until I’ve had my breakfast – but here’s another geographers thing that comes to mind 🙂

    ‘And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”

    “Have you used it much?” I enquired.

    “It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr: “the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.
    — Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893). ‘

  8. deadvocate permalink

    I had a thought (yes, just one!). The role of the provocateur (or jester) in a network is to restore balance through critical questioning (or humour). “Let the pontification begin, as the jester wades in”. Maybe the provocateur is the anti-thesis of the power-law, bursting the bubble of aggregated authority and opening the door for other voices to shout out? I need some breakfast….

    Now, about them geographer-folk. They seem a lot like philosophers… The philosophers of practical reasoning…. Any more stories about them? So funny!

  9. Just one Ken ? I seriously doubt that. I’m sure you think in your sleep. It’s great to hear the lively tone back in the Jester’s voice.
    I’ve been playing around with ‘5 Card Story’ in an endeavour to promote some Asperger perspective.
    I fear another addiction is setting in.
    Your comment about the flow took me back to the discussion during PLENK about your ‘C.R.A.P method of knowledge management’. It’s great to have something to laugh about !!

  10. deadvocate permalink

    That 5 Card Story looks pretty cool. Let the mind wander. Speaking of wander, I had a look at your blog and hope to wander over there soon, touch base. I wonder where your thinking will take you on connectivism etc?

    I sometimes wondered if Stephen Downes was promoting an Asperger-like perspective. What do you think?

    My thinking on connectivism is that talking about it raises awareness of some of the affordances of web-connection, or connection through technology, and I think that dialogue is good. I think that some of the assertions made about it are likely unsubstantiable, and I find some of its values inappropriate, and the method of discourse somewhat irksome. (Irksome is my new favourite word!)

    `But who cares what I think, except me!

    • Hi Ken,
      I have no idea at the moment where my thinking will take me on C/connectivism or probably anything else for that matter ! I’m way behind in readings and the more I read the more confused I become. And this is particularly IRKSOME (ha) to me because my tendency for procrastination is the bane of my life. I always need time to engage in reflective discourse with myself to purify my thoughts, with a great reliance on my personal ‘bull shit barometer’. I’m happily introverted, probably not likely to pin all my hopes for illumination on a social theory, and have, to date, leaned more towards the Constructivist philosophy. I believe that each of us is the sum of our experiences, and while I certainly accept that the ability to traverse social networks and environments and utilise technological tools is a pre requisite for learning in this age, ‘knowledge resides in the network’ is not a cliche that sits comfortably with me. If knowledge resides in the network why is there still no consensus on what C/connectivism is ? Will we never know, will we never be wise, will we never understand ?

      Even though I’ve been exposed to a smorgasbord of ideas, theories, beliefs, perspectives etc. since engaging in online learning, intriguingly my own beliefs have not markedly changed. If anything, they’ve probably been reinforced. Does this mean I have a closed mind ? My tolerance for ambiguity is low ? That I’ve actually learnt something from being an educator for more than 30 years ? These are rhetorical questions of course !!
      With respect to Stephen promoting an Asperger-like perspective, I’m not sure it was his intent, however I imagine it would be somewhat cloying to be surrounded by a bunch of sycophantic yes men/women parroting back one’s words and definitions even if one were a narcissist of the highest order. I would imagine he applauds individual thinkers who challenge an idea and challenge him to do the same. It must be damned exasperating to have to keep explaining what C/connectivism isn’t. Perhaps it is an evolving theory and it will be up to the nodes to determine its relevance and provide an ultimate definition.

      • Susan – I very much sympathize with your latest comment but I too am behind in everything so will postpone a response – BTW I left a comment on your blog that hasn’t appeared – maybe it got censored as there was a link present (Re Mashism Tango!).

  11. Ken – I agree strongly with your penultimate para – not the last! But you need to do more than talk or blog about connectivism. There’s a good-down-to-earth paper waiting to be written by somebody (not me – too lazy to read the literature!) with the right background to place practiced connectivism in context. IMHO the MOOC with it’s astonishing ability to achieve – well, something – is as good an example of this as any.

    I too have been looking at Susan’s blog. It’s a mine of good common sense – I intend to get back to it (after breakfast).

    Gordon Lockhart

    • Couldn’t reply to your comment in the correct place Gordon, so had to insert it here !
      Have a smile on my face here at the play on words here: mashist/masochist. Only registered when I watched the video. I believe both of them would apply, although I imagine it’s probably far more genteel and politically correct to stay with the former. Your comment is published now – I’d forgotten to set up my preferences.

      Watching the video led me to recall the magnificent scene in Scent Of A Woman where Al Pacino performs the most sensual tango, which in turn led me to my favourite scene which for me summarises what education should be about – incorruptibility :

      Apologies to Ken for using his blog as a message board !

      • Profound apologies Ken. I’m mortified. Please feel free to delete this video. I didn’t realise posting the link would embed it.

  12. Nah! – he should leave it – fits in well!

  13. deadvocate permalink

    Hi, no apologies required! The video looks great! I’m behind too in my reading and school work, so I apologize for not responding much lately. I hope I catch up soon.

  14. Susan’s ” I believe that each of us is the sum of our experiences ….” re Constructivist philosophy seems good enough for me too (or at least built on whatever genetic base we inherit). That was pretty much my reaction to Constructivism when I first read about Learning Theories only a few months ago and I don’t think I’ve really changed since. It’s not uncommon for scientifically-based theories to give highly-specialized meanings to words that are loosely-defined in common use. The use of ‘information’ as a technical term in Shannon’s Information Theory is a good example. Here the word is nailed down in a very specific way that may seem a little weird at first but it does give rise to sophisticated mathematical theorems (on channel capacity etc) and, what’s more to the point, it facilitates the design of complex error correction and detection schemes that banish interference (most of the time!) in all sorts of communication systems. Hardly comparing like with like I know but I find nothing at all like this with Connectivism’s attempts to hang weird meanings on to words such as ‘knowledge’. I can see the point of saying things like ‘knowledge resides in the network’ in the context of a discussion on social networks but in that very specific context I suspect it could be said without the philosophical dressing up that seems to obfuscate and bamboozle.

    I’m sure that Susan – and me too as it happens – have learned something in 30 years as educators but in my case I’m relying mainly on the old BS barometer rather than much reading. I’m guilty of giving up or even skipping some readings but then Connectivism allows the learner to take it or leave it – so now I’m feeling guilty about feeling guilty – and that’s irksome!

  15. deadvocate permalink

    Ah yes, the irksomeness of feeling irked. At some point I think we all reach this state. For a Connectivist, the mental state of ‘irked’ often precedes the network state of ‘dis-connect’, and thus can lead to an affirmation of the statement “knowledge is in the connections”, as knowledge is no longer in the ‘irked’ because they aren’t connected. (this is a corollary to the main theory). But of course, some trace of knowledge remains in the ‘irked’, but it is no longer social knowledge, it is now individual knowledge, and forms part of that ‘sum of experiences’ that constitutes an individual entity and identity. When irkness passes, a re-connection is possible, and the individual again adds to their ‘sum of experiences’ identity. But I digress…

    It is the cause of the irkness that is pivotal to this discussion. Like a butterfly’s wings contributing to the formation of the tornado (some might use the analogy of winged-tomatoes), the complex dressings of obfuscations and bamboozlement produce irksomeness resulting in the chaotic outcome of guilt about guilt. And that outcome, in itself, is irksome, as you have well noted!

  16. Ken – After a couple of beers I can now report a total absence of irk and, as you correctly predict, successful re-connection. The winged-tomato analogy has also revealed the true chaotic origin of my guilt – excessive consumption of over-priced Canadian maple syrup on Pancake Day!!

  17. deadvocate permalink

    Hello Gordon, wow, talk about a serendipitous moment! I think we have a real scientific theory here! To quote:

    >a total absence of irk and, as you correctly predict, successful re-connection.

    If I understand the issues with theory correctly, it is in its predictive capacity that a true theory excels. What we have here then is a predictive theory:

    “Connection (or re-connection) is contingent on the absence (or removal) of irk”

    (I dub thee: Con-Irk-tivism)

    Note: Empirical studies have shown that Con-Irk-tivism is a predictable outcome of excessive consumption of over-priced Canadian maple syrup (on Pancake Day) and the resulting guilt therein, and is ameliorated by the consumption of beer.

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